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Hercules and Love Affair - Blue Songs

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Artist: Hercules and Love Affair

Album: Blue Songs

Label: Moshi Moshi

Review date: Aug. 17, 2011

When Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler released his self-titled debut in 2008, it seemed to be heralding a slight but noticeable shift in electronic music away from the rave culture of Fat Boy Slim and The Chemical Brothers toward something more overtly retro and gleeful, clearly reveling in its nods to 1970s disco and camp pop. Following hard on the heels of LCD Soundsystem and Justice, it was a welcome reminder that dance music could be just as tailored for sweaty clubs and compact concert halls as for massive arenas and outdoor festivals. Particularly welcome were the vocal contributions of Antony Hegarty, whose emotive croon added just enough gravitas to the project to elevate it above pastiche and make it one of the best dance albums of the decade.

Three years on and much has changed in the Hercules camp. All of the musicians from the first album, bar Butler and DJ Kim Ann Foxman, have left, replaced by two new vocalists (Aerea Negrot and Shaun Wright) and another producer, Mark Pistel. The sense is (no disrespect intended to these newcomers) that Butler is very much taking complete control of the project, and sadly this would appear to be to its own detriment.

Blue Songs starts off with quite a bang, the back-to-back diamonds that are "Painted Eyes" and "My House." The former would have sat quite neatly alongside the Hercules and Love Affair material, with its insistent rhythm and infectious string motifs. The vocals are soulful and sexy, not too unlike Antony’s, albeit with a weaker range. "My House," meanwhile, is compact and sexy, again with the vocals driving proceedings, courtesy of the ridiculous line "My house / is in order," repeated ad nauseum. "My House" represents a shift away from its predecessor, and Butler’s earlier work, obviously echoing ‘80s and ‘90s house, and even Pet Shop Boys or Junior Boys at their most danceable. It’s a feisty track, sexy and sleek, and the album’s high-water mark.

Sadly, it’s downhill from there. Butler seems to lose focus amid a torrent of rather unwieldy tempo shifts, style meandering and forgettable melodies. Hercules and Love Affair’s biggest attraction is that, at its best, it really gets the adrenaline flowing. Whilst it’s admirable of Butler to experiment with beatless tunes and slower tempos, the songs just aren’t memorable or well-written enough to really generate sustained interest. After all, you need a very different approach in order to write a confessional ballad than a four-to-floor disco pounder. Butler has mastered the latter, but definitely not the former.

There are some great things throughout Blue Songs: a sexy funk guitar line tastefully dropped into "Answers Come In Dreams," the unobtrusive horns on "Falling," that opening double whammy. But ultimately, there is an icy self-consciousness that permeates the whole album, robbing it of the soulfulness that is essential to a dance album. Maybe Butler was aiming higher than simply “dance music.” A laudable ambition, but one that sadly isn’t matched by the content of Blue Songs.

By Joseph Burnett

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